Even back during my high school days, well over a decade ago now sadly, The Basement was a venue well known for its live music performances. However, its food and alcoholic beverages were never much spoken about, if at all.
Things have changed since those happy, more carefree days as La Lupita, sister restaurant to the Al Carbon Mexican food truck, have taken over the establishment’s bar and kitchen.
While there are many dining establishments riding the Mexican wave, the current cuisine de jour, few do so with the finesse and flair that La Lupita at The Basement does.
The amber tones of the wooden interior presents a warm, welcoming environment. At the epicentre of The Basement and of its main dining area lies a stage area and a spacious dance floor with tables situated both alongside, for those looking to get close to the action, or off in the wings, partitioned away for a little solace & privacy.
While La Lupita have taken over the bar and kitchen, The Basement remains true to its musical roots with live performances conducted several times a week. For instance there’s Mariachi Mondays, with Victor Valdez on the harp (yes, a harp!) performing familiar Latin tunes with his band, such as one tonne Rodeo Guantanamera.
While the music can get really loud at times if you’re seated by the dance floor, the often easy listening catchy melodies can inspire a spontaneous session of samba, salsa or sitting silently in shyness of your lack of rhythm. I opted for the latter.
At the bar, Christian the master mixologist makes a magnificently mellow margarita ($16) that’s so easy to drink that you’ll almost wonder if there’s any alcohol until it hits you a drink or two later. If you’re anything like me, your face will go to condition red as your genetically-coded beacon alerts fellow patrons that there’s an inebriated Asian in the house.
In lieu of crusting the rim with salt, a portion of the underside of the martini glass is coated instead; a more elegant and aesthetically pleasing presentation for such a well-executed cocktail.
The Rio Bravo Mexican beer served with lime and chili salt ($6) is a novel beverage that likewise is dangerously easy to drink. For the spice-adverse, allay your concerns as the chili is rather mild. It, like the lime, is there more for a flavourful zing than any real bite.
While the alcoholic drinks are the real stars at La Lupita, the Mexican fare they serve is fairly good food, at a fairly reasonable price, with a fair number of highlights. With dining companions Thang and Penny, we make our way through most of the limited menu.
There are three standard soft-shelled tacos on the menu ($6 each) – beef, chicken & pork (top-right). The aromatic spices and charcoal grilled flavours of the chicken makes it my favourite of the three. The flour tortillas for the tacos are freshly rolled and lightly grilled pretty much to order.
There’s also a self-serve bar with many sauces & fillings to dress your tacos with. One might even say a plethora.
The Sancho (top-left), is a taco special with a charcoal-grilled, bacon-wrapped jalapeno stuffed with oaxaca cheese which is quite good too. The Sancho, as well as other specials, are available when “unlocked”, usually by posting a photo of your experience at La Lupita on their Facebook page. Check their page for current unlock specials and unlocking requirements.
Aside from the tacos, there are a number of other dishes on the menu. Cowboy Beans ($10, bottom-left), which are essentially bean nachos served with stringy oaxaca cheese. Elote ($10, bottom-right), which is grilled corn kernels served in a similar fashion with corn chips, various salsas and sauces. The Elote’s my favourite of the two nacho-style dishes, due to the sweetness and aroma of the grill-caramelised corn as well as being fairly light to eat.
There are also charcoal-grilled chicken wings ($10) which we’d unfortunately missed out on that were very popular as they sold out pretty quickly. Something to go back for.
La Lupita’s move to The Basement brings some good Mexican and great drinks to Circular Quay.
However, they’re not done with their former venue in Canterbury as they’re looking into starting up some new, yet-to-be-announced venture there.
If it’s anything as good as La Lupita, I eagerly await to see what goodness they plan for that space.
7 Macquarie Place, Sydney
(02) 9251 2797